The newest Avenger’s movie, “Age of Ultron” will again feature one of the most neurologically fascinating characters in the Marvel universe, The Incredible Hulk.
For those of you who have lives and do grownup things unconnected to the comic world, The Incredible Hulk is the 9 foot, green-skinned, titanically-muscled alter ego of mild-mannered scientist Bruce Banner. Banner was subject to a gamma ray accident such that whenever he gets angry lightning-fast, dramatic physiological changes transform him into The Incredible Hulk. Neurobiologially these changes must involve firehose secretions of human growth hormones from Dr. Banner’s anterior pituitary and is almost secreting or reacting with mind-boggling quantities of the stress hormone cortisol.
But what intrigues me is how uber-articulate nuclear physicist Bruce Banner upon transformation is suddenly limited to a two-syllable vocabulary. Every part of his body grows, presumably including his brain. Why doesn’t his intellect increase as well? Why isn’t the Hulk a mean, green thinking machine?
I have heard several explanations of Banner’s sudden, unexplained loss of articulation. My buddy Jeff posits the growth of Banner’s brain is asymmetrical, that a side-effect of transforming into the Hulk involves an incomplete growth a part of the brain’s right hemisphere called “Broca’s area” that controls speech. Damage to Broca’s can cause a condition called expressive aphasia. The person knows what he or she, (yes there is a “She-Hulk”) wants to say but is unable to form the words or sentences to express it.. Like the character in “Game of Thrones” Hodor who can only say “Hodor”.
Another Hulk brain asymmetrical growth theory involves an outsized growth of his brain’s “flight or fight” response mechanism. Hulk’s amygdala, instead of being the size of a of an almond grows to grapefruit proportions and keeps him constantly hyper-aroused. He perceives and and reacts to EVERY stimulus as a threat.
Another theory is that Hulk’s brain size is proportional but that in order to innervate his gargantuan body and musculature his motor cortex, which controls voluntary movement has had to recruit neurons from other parts of his brain leaving precious little energy or brain cells for cognition or speech.
Of course are just theories, like gut bacteria everybody has lots of them.
What explains Dr. Bruce Banner’s inability to articulate when he becomes the Hulk? I’d love to know what you think…